- Title: Satellite images could identify slave labour in India
- Date: 3rd August 2017
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. JESSICA WARDLAW, RESEARCH FELLOW, NOTTINGHAM GEOSPATIAL INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM, SAYING: "A lot of the power behind citizen science comes from the number of people who actually participate. So what happens is one person will log on. And they will be presented with an image like this they will click on a brick kiln, on the image, and log it before they go on to the next image and find even more."
- Embargoed: 17th August 2017 13:42
- Keywords: University of Nottingham slave labor slavery bonded labor citizen science Google Earth brick kilns
- Location: NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND, UK / FILE LOCATIONS
- City: NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND, UK / FILE LOCATIONS
- Country: India
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA0096SLRW4B
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Members of the public are helping tackle modern day slavery by looking at satellite images of a remote region in northern India on the hunt for brick kilns; the tell-tale sign of forced labour.
More than 18 million people in India are believed to be living in slavery. Despite the banning of bonded labor in 1976, it remains widespread with millions from the marginalised Dalit and tribal communities working in brick kilns, as well as rice mills, brothels or as domestic workers to pay off debts.
By tracking potential sites of exploitation from space a team from University of Nottingham hopes to support policy makers and the management of humanitarian efforts on the ground.
Geospatial techniques have only become sophisticated enough in the past 10 years to allow for near real-time tracking of such remote sites from space, they say.
"We've had higher resolution data which means that you can see features that are on the ground," said Dr. Doreen Boyd, associate professor in Earth Observation. "So you could see buildings, trees and so on that you couldn't see in the data that we've had for the last 50 years. So that's been a real game changer."
Across India, villagers lured by traffickers with the promise of a good job and advance payments become trapped in bondage. Remote locations, political instability and the sheer size of the region often make it difficult for NGOs and aid workers on the ground to find these sites of slavery.
The team focused their attention on an area of Rajasthan in India where there are known to be a lot of brick kilns.
"The brick kilns feature in an area that we call the 'Brick belt' and that's one-and-a-half million square kilometres. So the only way we can really look for these areas of activity is through Earth observation from space," added Boyd.
The pilot project, called 'Slavery From Space', focused on a 2,600km2 area to use the power of 'citizen science' to trawl through masses of satellite imagery.
"A lot of the power behind citizen science comes from the number of people who participate," said Dr. Jessica Wardlaw from the Nottingham Geospatial Institute.
Volunteers log on to the website and are presented with a satellite image that may or may not have a brick kiln. The user clicks on any kilns they see before proceeding to the next image. While they vary in size, brick kilns are mostly light brown in colour with an oblong or circular shape; bearing a resemblance to a sports stadium when seen from space.
"We will convert each of the markings made by volunteers into co-ordinates on the ground to be able to map where the same kiln has been marked by multiple people. That's going to be the key," added Wardlaw.
For the initial set of 396 satellite images used in the pilot study, volunteers had added 4,100 classifications by the end of June, when each image had been seen by 15 different pairs of eyes.
The trial run used Google Earth satellite images, but they are now talking to satellite providers in a bid to have greater control over the images gathered. They're also exploring whether machine learning algorithms could train a computer to recognise features of interest as effectively as human eyes.
The Slavery From Space project is just one initiative of the University of Nottingham's Rights Lab, a research platform for ending slavery
"We have built the world's first really large scale research agenda for ending slavery. It means for the first time in the 230 year history of anti-slavery action we can actually underpin anti-slavery with a research platform," said Professor Zoe Trodd, Director of the Rights Lab.
"Our goal working as part of Alliance 8.7 which is led by the International Labour Organization is to be part of this movement that is trying to end slavery by 2030. That's a U.N. sustainable goal target."
India is home to 40 percent of the world's estimated 45.8 million slaves, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation.
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